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A Passion for Perch

A Passion for Perch

It comes at this time every year. It's the season for perch fishing, and my brother Rick just can't help himself. He starts making calls to see if there's ice safe enough to allow fishing for perch at Banks Lake or Fish Lake, anywhere that he knows that these mini-walleye gather for spawning. His friends shake their heads. This is the guy who is legendary for salmon and lake trout fishing on Lake Chelan. He has caught steelhead by the score on Northwest waters. I've seen him battle marlin in Hawaii. But this time of year, if you mention the word perch, his eyes glaze over and just like Homer Simpson he utters, "Uhhmm---purrrhhhrrrch." It's out of control.

He recently talked my Dad, myself, my wife, and even the grandkids into a perch-fishing mission in the Columbia Basin. The Winchester Wasteway was our destination, and I have to admit, we all got the bug. Before we knew it, we had a five-gallon bucket overflowing with fat, fresh perch. None of us really wanted to stop, but we had more than enough for a big family feed, and we packed our gear and headed for home. Most of us lick our lips in anticipation of a meal of fresh perch.

What this day reminded me of, was the joy that perch fishing brings to young and old. Our father had us out when we were just tads. We'd rent a big, rowboat at Fish Lake and spend the day filling sacks with perch. He didn't even give us fishing rods! He'd just hand us a reel, tell us to strip out enough line to hit bottom, and then just bring 'em in hand over hand when we hooked one. It was great fun.

Another thing that this trip reminded of was just how popular the early-season perch fishing was in our area. The banks of the Wasteway were lined with rigs and anglers, all similarly equipped with their five-gallon buckets and cartons of worms. It was obvious that my brother Rick wasn't the only one with a serious perch affliction. Spring fever, cabin fever, whatever you want to call it, it runs at epidemic levels in the late-winter, early spring in North Central Washington. Perch fishing is sort of a starting gun for the season, and everyone was happy to get outside and get a tug on the line.

Maybe you're one of the afflicted and are looking for a place to get the relief that only a day's fishing and the promise of a feast on these tasty fish can provide. Perhaps you haven't experienced the fun of perch fishing and want to give it a try. Well, I'll give you some pointers on where to find them, and some advice on how to rig for catching them, too.

Eileen found fishing for perch a real blast!

I've already mentioned the Winchester Wasteway, and that's a good place to start. The Wasteway begins at a point about halfway between Quincy and Ephrata on highway 28. It runs south for several miles until it first widens into the North Columbia Basin Wildlife Area. It continues through the Desert Wildlife Area, and although it becomes large and marshy in the area of the South Columbia Wildlife Area, it eventually flows into Potholes Reservoir. This area of the Potholes is called the "dunes," and a glance at a map will tell you why. This is an area that gives boaters nightmares, but it is a fishing wonderland for a variety of species. Perch are plentiful here, too, but more on Potholes and the area around it later.

Many anglers start well below where the Wasteway originates, and look for areas where the canal has more the look of a small stream. The water isn't very deep, maybe three to five feet in many areas, but the banks are steep. There is good access along the Wasteway, with dirt roads sometimes paralleling both banks. This is an advantage as sometimes it is necessary to fish for a short period and then travel if hungry perch aren't present. They will be around in good numbers, and it shouldn't take long to locate a decent school. There is good reason to take along the longest rod you have. It makes it much easier to lift your catch over the weeds and brush along the water's shore. When we last fished here my wife was hauling in perch from a twelve-foot bank, and bouncing them from bush to bush to the roadbed.

The basic set up is pretty simple. Crimp on a sinker at the very end of your line. There are some snags along the bottom, and you can often retrieve your hooks since the sinker will just slide off when stuck. It's best to put your hooks a fair distance above the sinker, maybe two or three feet. The perch are along the bottom, but there is a current in the canal, and this seems to sweep the bait right into their range. I just tie a double loop knot and tie my leader to this. My brother likes to use the Bear Paw line leader connectors. Either way works.

My niece Katie was pretty proud of her catch

Leaders should be kept fairly short. Eight to twelve-inch leaders are fine, and heavy leader material is an advantage. A stiff leader helps keep your bait from twirling around your main line, which makes it easier for the perch to chomp on. The Bear Paw rigging also is a plus in this regard. Hooks should be a size 10 or 12 bait style. Most times a quarter of a nightcrawler or half a regular worm is usually plenty of bait to stack on the hook.

The rest is easy. Just pitch it out, let the weight settle and reel in some of the slack. A bow in the line is okay, as watching the line is the best way to detect strikes. Perch tend to peck at the bait, and having enough slack to see the twitches will result in more hook ups. Rick even found that using one of the really bright, colored lines was a definite advantage when looking for bites in flat light.

That's about it, really. Some like to use two hooks, and doubles aren't rare. But if you're set up the way I have described and you have found a hungry school, the next question is when to stop. Each angler has his or her own threshold for filleting. I have heard of places where 12- to 14-inch perch abound. Heard tales of 17-inchers, too, but most of the perch you'll encounter on most waters in North Central Washington will average around 9 or 10 inches. Don't misunderstand me, though, that's a great size for filleting, and if done right it doesn't take too long.

On the trip I mentioned earlier, we came home with a hundred and thirty four perch. All of them about the 9-inch size. Rick has an electric knife that he uses for just this purpose, and to my surprise, there are several models made for just this purpose—stainless blades and all. He made a cut just behind the head and down to the tail with one stroke, and then striped the meat from the skin with another. I followed behind and cut the rib bones off the fillet and presto! We had the whole mess done in less than an hour.

We kept the bucket well iced and the quality of the meat was perfect. The entire clan enjoyed a real feast the next day. Rick prepared a beer batter and cooked them in hot oil. The beer called for in the batter isn't for flavor. It's the yeast in the beer that makes the batter rise and makes it particularly light and fluffy. Anyway, that's the way we went on this day. Some prefer corn meal, and I wouldn't argue about it. It's a great way to prepare perch, too. It is important to keep the oil hot and not add too many fish at once. It only takes a couple minutes for a good-sized fillet to be completely cooked and golden brown when the oil is kept hot.

Filleting a mess of perch at the end of the day is part of the fun

I'm getting hungry just writing about this! I hope this has your interest, too, and now I'll give you some ideas of where you can catch your own perch feed, beyond Winchester Wasteway.

As I mentioned earlier, the Wasteway eventually empties into Potholes Reservoir at its northern end. This is a great place to look for perch, as well as largemouth bass and crappie as well. Perch can be found all along the reservoir, and the good news is that perch, crappie, and bluegill populations are on the rise here. Many are taken from the docks at MarDon, and along the riprap at the dam.

One of the best-known perching grounds is just below O'Sullivan Dam at Potholes. Soda Lake is famous for producing perch in the early spring. This narrow, long lake offers lots of shore access, and also has two boat launches. Early in the season the perch can be found in heavy concentrations near the spillway that feeds the lake. Later in the year they spread out, but can still be found in good numbers.

Just to the south and west of Soda Lake is Goose and Lower Goose lakes. This was the site of a serious perching plunder by my dad, brother, and I some years ago. We found the fish to be incredibly plentiful, but not very large. The good news is that the perch are now a bit larger. Both lakes have a boat launch.

For current information on the fishing in this area, the folks at MarDon Resort are very helpful. There is also plenty of camping space available here, along with a store full of tackle and snacks. You can call the resort at (509) 346-2651. They also have a great web site at

North of here, and under 20 miles to the east of the town of Soap Lake is Billy Clapp Lake. There are some very nice (I mean up to 12 inches) perch in Billy Clapp, but it may take some looking to find good concentrations. Some places to start your search are just off the boat ramp at the bottom, or dam end of the lake, and near Summer Falls. There is a small State Park at Summer Falls, but most anglers attack Billy Clapp from the south.

Also known for good perch fishing in the early spring are the outlets from Moses Lake. These are small areas that can't serve huge crowds, but during spawning time, anglers jostle for space along the shores here. The outlets can be found by following the signs that lead to the ORV Park that's on the southwest shore of Moses Lake. The exit is just before you cross over the lake on I-90.

North of Billy Clapp is Banks Lake, which has been a disappointment for perch anglers for several years. There is hope here now, though, and last season the fishing through the ice off the face of the dam at the south end created quite a stir. The boat basin at Coulee City used to be a real gathering place for perch fishing, too. The ice didn't form here this year at the dam, and a thin layer of ice remains in the boat basin, so it is too early to tell what to expect from Banks Lake this year. For a report on Banks Lake, contact Big Wally's at the south end at (509) 632-5504, Coulee Playland at the northern end at (509) 633-2671. You can find both their web sites by going to the links page on my web site at

For really good pointers on the fishing in this general area, talk to Dave or Ethan Lewis at Bass Country in Ephrata. They have a combination gas stop and tackle shop here and are very much in tune to what's going on in their neighborhood. They can be reached by calling (509) 754-3957. They will soon have a web site up and running at

Heading back west, and just outside of Quincy are Stan Coffin Lake and Evergreen Reservoir. Staff Coffin is a small, shallow lake that is loaded with spinyrays. Perch are just one of the species of warmwater fishes that swim in the lake. Early season is a good time to fish for perch here, as the chance of catching something of size is better when they are gathered for the spawn. The same is true at Evergreen Reservoir. Perch are typically not the reason anglers visit this lake. Although on the smallish side, the fish do exist here in good numbers. Both Stan Coffin and Evergreen sport boat launches.

Way, way to the west of Quincy and even Wenatchee and on the road to Stevens Pass is Fish Lake. I've talked a lot about Fish Lake in other articles, and here I go again. This has been a favorite of perch anglers for decades. As I mentioned earlier, I was fishing here before I was allowed to use a rod in a small boat! Perch are the primary target of most ice fishermen in the winter, when ice is safe. Many people continue their pursuit of perch throughout the long season here. Sometimes they can be elusive, but rest assured there are lots of prime fillets finning about in Fish Lake. One item of note on fishing for perch here. Keep you baits up off the bottom. There is a healthy population of bullheads or sculpin in the lake, and they will beat other fish to your bait if left lying on the bottom.

For information on fishing anytime of year at Fish Lake, call Scott or Nadine West at the Cove Resort. Their number is (509) 763-3130. The Cove also offers lots and lots of camping space, boat and barge rentals and a store. There is a dock for fishing for a small fee and the boat launch charge is five bucks.

There are lots of other waters in North Central Washington that contain populations of perch. There are many in the vicinity of the waters that I have pointed out as destinations. The lakes, canals and impoundments that I have mentioned are well known, and have over the years provided fairly consistent fishing. I have provided some good contacts for checking on conditions before you plan a trip, and I suggest that you use them.

There are those who have yet to experience the allure of spending time with their family and friend, and particularly their youngsters in pursuit of perch. It is something that I can clearly recollect from my youth. Perch fishing offers a pace of action that keeps the attention of the young. Heck, it keeps my attention. It's hard for me to stop once I get started on a good day. Even the most professional of fishermen such as my brother, who is a former guide, can't resist the call of spawning season of perch.

Once you try it you may wind up in the same condition that he remains in: with a passion for perch.